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Young Lawyers Stress Networking, Communication in the Coronavirus Era

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Meritas Young Lawyers Advisory Board (YLAB) has been finding new ways to connect, share information, and work on projects to benefit Meritas. Current and future initiatives include virtual coffees and happy hours, 30- to 60-second videos about what they’ve been doing and what they’ve learned during the crisis, and a series of webinars.

When the global coronavirus pandemic hit, the YLAB was well on its way to launching its new Regional Outreach program. The goal was for more experienced as well as newer Meritas Young Lawyers (YLs) from firms that are geographically close to work together on initiatives that matter to them or projects that would benefit Meritas, all while fostering relationships that they will carry with them into the next few decades of practice.

The program was set to be introduced to Meritas at large in a presentation at the 2020 Annual Meeting in London, and many of the proposed ideas took the form of live events, such as ski trips or visits to each other’s cities for group gatherings at a restaurant. Several Meritas Young Lawyers volunteered to spearhead these projects, but the lockdown put many of the plans on hold.

As a result, the group has revamped and reimagined the initiative for the realities of the COVID-19 work-from-home era. "Ski trips are off now," says YLAB Chair Alex Malyshev, Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP (New York, New York, USA). “So we thought, what can we do instead?” Howard Kennedy (London, England and Wales, UK) had been holding one-on-one virtual coffees with lawyers, and the group thought that idea could be tailored to young lawyers’ needs through the introduction of regional virtual happy hours or coffees. The first two virtual coffees occurred on May 14.

David Reid, Brazeau Seller Law (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), led a virtual coffee attended by six YLs from Meritas firms across Canada and Portland, Oregon, USA. “It’s a way to reach out and connect in a way that we hadn’t done before in the region,” Reid says. Most of the conversation centered around what the COVID experience had been like in the participants’ firms and practices, as well as a discussion about how litigation filings and proceedings were moving along in the virtual world. Time was built in for questions as well. The group plans to do another call in three to four weeks. “Even after lockdown life ends, the group was very receptive to continue this on a monthly basis,” Reid says. “It’s an opportunity to discuss a mix of social and professional topics and build relationships.”

Another call involved young lawyers from the southeastern US. “What started as a social meeting and a way to check in on how our respective firms were coping with the COVID-19 pandemic evolved into a dialogue on how to better utilize our regional network of young lawyers,” says Sheldon Stokes, Johnston, Allison & Hord, P.A. (Charlotte, North Carolina, USA), who organized the call. “We have now scheduled monthly calls to strategize best practices to use Meritas among the Southeast firms. Our goal is to learn the different capabilities of our regional firms, develop strong relationships, and have our fellow Meritas firms top of mind when speaking and interacting with clients.”

In addition to virtual networking, the YLAB is also in the process of having YLs from around the world record 30- to 60-second videos about what they’ve been doing during the crisis, what they have learned, and new strategies developed during the lockdown that can continue going forward. Meritas headquarters provided some questions to be addressed in the videos, and will create a montage of the results to share more widely with Meritas. The YLAB is also discussing the possibility of hosting webinars where young lawyers from neighboring jurisdictions with the same area of expertise could relay information about specific topics to the broader Meritas community. Both initiatives create content that can be posted on the Meritas public website as part of the organization’s thought leadership initiative.

The YLAB's plan had been to recap the first year’s worth of Regional Initiative activities at the 2021 Annual Meeting. They hope to carry through with that plan, as these initial social and networking events turn into pro bono work, community events, or educational projects. Meanwhile, the virtual networking sessions have their own rewards. “We want to connect, and a Zoom or Microsoft Teams call is an easy way to do that,” Malyshev says. “Volunteering to head up one of the initiatives is also a good way for young lawyers to increase their participation in Meritas on a leadership level.”

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